Friday, May 18, 2012

Wayang Kulit & Wish Fulfilling Ritual

First, for those who are uninitiated, let us go over an introduction as to what Wayang Kulit really is. Or you can find more info in the Web:

Introduction To Wayang Kulit

The Wayang Kulit is a traditional theatre form that brings together the playfulness of a puppet show, and the elusive quality and charming simplicity of a shadow play.

Its origin remains a mystery, though it appears to have a strong Javanese and Hindu influence. Today, it is spread out, in various forms and guises, across Asia -- from Turkey and China to Indonesia and of course, Malaysia.

Wayang Kulit is most popular in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly in Kelantan, the heartland of Wayang Kulit, where it took root more than 250 years ago. Today, however, urbanisation and modern entertainment have led to a decline in its popularity.

There used to be four main varieties of the form in this country: the Wayang Kulit Siam of Kelantan; the Wayang Gedek, performed by the Thai communities of Kedah and Perlis; the Wayang Kulit Jawa, performed by the Javanese communities in Selangor and Johor; and the Wayang Kulit Melayu, performed by the Javanese communities of Terengganu. Today, only the first two are performed.

All of the varieties of this unique theatre form employ the principle of light and shadow to bring to life its characters, depicted by intricately carved puppets. The flat two-dimensional puppets are carved out of cow or buffalo hide, then they are painted, all by hand.

Each puppet, a stylised exaggeration of the human shape, is given a distinctive appearance and not unlike its string puppet cousins, has jointed “arms”. There may be as many as 40 puppet characters, all with different traits and mannerisms, in a performance.

The master puppeteer and storyteller known as the Tok Dalang is responsible for breathing life into this array of characters.

During a typical performance, which can last several few hours, the Tok Dalang sits behind a semi-transparent white cloth which acts as a screen. The puppet figures are silhouetted onto the screen with an oil lamp/light bulb as the light source.

The stories of the wayang kulit are traditionally based on the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Usually, the Tok Dalang begins by introducing the main characters; first the puppet storyteller, followed by Maharaja Wana (Rawana), Sri Rama (Rama), Siti Dewa (Sita), the Laksamana and the court jesters, Pak Dogol and Wak Long.


The shadow play is invariably accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, one that consists of about 10 to 30 musicians.

Traditionally, the Wayang Kulit is staged during religious festivals and important occasions, such as weddings, births and circumcision. Primarily, it was taken as an entertainment medium. However, it also served to impart moral values, as well as to pass down folklore and historical tales.

Like many other art forms in Malaysia, it was believed to have strong ties to the spirit world. It used to be customary to make food offerings to the spirits during and after a performance, but this practice is now frowned upon. Anyway, let us explore the ritual proper below.

The Siamese Wayang Kulit Ritual Proper

Below is the ritual as I still can remember it:

1.      Food offerings such as roast chicken, satay, banana, betel leaves, fruits, flowers, eggs, rice, sweets, coconuts, drinks etc. must be prepared beforehand.

2.      Also prepare some earth wares for containing portion of foods for the spirits.

3.      We also need some mats, one for each of the Wayang Kulit puppets.

4.      On a darker side of the ritual, some white chicken blood and black chicken blood is added to make the Wayang Kulit puppets “angry” or fierce.

5.      Now, gather four handful of earth while reciting mantra for gathering earth. The earth is wrapped with a cloth and put in the center of the Wayang Kulit stage.

6.      The mats are laid in front of the Wayang Kulit stage and an earth ware containing food staffs are put on the mat, together with one white candle and black incense.

7.      Draw a talisman or “tangkai” and inscribe your date of birth on it then hang it over the entrance of your house.

8.      Draw another “tangkai” and put it into an earth ware then cover the mouth of the earth ware with another “tangkai”.

9.      All the ritual stuffs and food offerings are set accordingly.

10.  The mater of ceremony must bath with flower of seven colors before the mantra recitation can begin.

11.  When everything is ready, the master recites a conjuration to invite the spirits to come and enjoy the food offerings. This must be done for three rounds.

12.  After the completion of the food offering ritual, all food stuffs and the pot containing “tangkai” is buried into a place that is thought to be haunted or under a big tree. This location is marked as you will need to revisit the place on the full moon night to continue the offering and praying.

13.  The Wayang Kulit puppets and the bundle of earth are then worshipped under the house’s main altar.

14.  As it was pointed above, this ritual was customary performed before and after a Wayang Kulit show or some practitioner also make it an annual event to bless their houses. I had a friend who still keeps this tradition when I last met him quite many years ago.

As before, the “tangkai” and “jampi” (incantation) were not included as I am still struggling to make sense of them. Once I have gone through with the ritual, I may publish them for your reading pleasure. J

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